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Curtis Reliford vs. Starbucks

by wildegurl
Curtis Reliford and his Follow Your Heart Action Network sued Starbucks for slander after the Starbucks manager tried to have Curtis arrested for panhandling.
Curtis Reliford and about 20 supporters attended a court hearing today in front of Judge Almquist. It stemmed from an occurrence back in 2007 where Curtis Reliford, founder of the Follow Your Heart Action Network, parked his truck and trailer in front of Starbucks on Pacific Avenue in order to get a cup of coffee. He parked and then put money in two meters. The manager of Starbucks came out and harassed Curtis Reliford, claiming he was panhandling. She called the police to have him cited and went next door to get someone from The Vault to also harass Curtis. Police showed up, did not cite Mr. Reliford, and said he had done nothing illegal. There were no witnesses supporting Starbucks' claims, but there was at least one witness in court today supporting Curtis' version of the incident.

In the Sentinel article, the manager claims Curtis went table-to-table asking for donations, though the witnesses all claimed he had just arrived and had not asked anyone for money, he just wanted coffee. Curtis decided to sue Starbucks for slander, claiming that they have tarnished his non-profit's reputation by calling him a panhandler. You can bet that, had Curtis been part of Salvation Army or Red Cross, this incident would not have happened. And since Curtis is black, some question whether this was race related.

Today in court, after brief statements by both attorneys, Judge Almquist dismissed the case on the premise that calling a charitable organization a "panhandler" was not going to hurt its reputation or influence how it conducts its business. Observers felt that Reliford's attorney, John King, had done a poor job on the case as he said little, mumbled and paused through his presentation to the judge.

Curtis Reliford started the Follow Your Heart Action Network to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. He has received the 2006 KSBW Jefferson Award, the American Red Cross' Good Samaritan Award, and the NAACP's Community Service Award.

Further action against Starbucks is being planned. Check back for a protest out front of Starbucks in two weeks. Please boycott Starbucks.
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..and he seems like a genuinely great and compassionate guy, but I think that the court is technically correct in ruling that his (and his nonprofits') image was not tarnished by the untrue accusations. If nothing else, proving the damage would be a very difficult thing to do. Slander laws are a bitch like that.

by Robert Norse
There was much interesting, lively, and turbulent dialogue afterwards between attorney King, Curtis, and his supporters in the court hallway. I'll be playing most of that tonight at 6:15 PM on Free Radio Santa Cruz at 101.1 FM (streams at Call-in number for those who want to comment is 831-427-3772. The show will also be archived in a few days at .

I suggested that Curtis and his supporters engage in direct educational and perhaps boycott action outside Starbucks, describing the true state of affairs and demanding Starbucks issue an apology and some kind of restitution. Informing the local community through tabling and flyering outside the cafe might produce some quicker results and funnel coffee business to some more local downtown places.

I understand there is also a meeting tonight of the County Wide Community Dialogue on Race, Poverty, Equality, and Justice--which held meeting after meeting about police abuse, and has so far failed to take any kind of remedial action. Perhaps as anticipated, since it was led by Simba Kenyatta and Tony Madrigal--both of whom were running for City Council last year. Kenyatta lost, Madrigal won; the Coalition has become very low-profile if not completely invisible. If anyone has a report (it's out at 6:30 PM in Aptos somewhere), call the radio show or leave me a message at 423-HUFF.

Some Curtis supporters did suggest mobilizing folks in the Coalition for an action against Starbucks. More power to them if they can bring it off! For those interested in Copwatching downtown or leaving some literature about the Starbucks incident at our Copwatch table, some of us from HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship & Freedom) will be in front of Borders 5 PM this Saturday the 21st.

The attorney's name is Jim King. King was instrumental in torpedoing Citizens Committee for the Homeless support for the Initiative to End the Sleeping Ban in 1997, served as an ineffectual member of the Citizens Police Review Board before City Council killed the Board in 2003, and now has a checkered record on the completely- neutered Measure K (Lowest Enforcement of Marijuana) Committee, which has given the SCPD a complete blank check and rubberstamp. He is also, as many observed yesterday an ineffectual attorney at best--however well-intentioned. (I understand he gave his services free, though someone ended up paying $2000 for Curtis's court costs).
by Robert Norse
Councilmember and Coalition member Madrigal clarified tonight's meeting will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Freedom Blvd. He advised me the group is now called the SC Countywide Community Coalition on Overcoming Racism [SCCCCOR] The Law Enforcement group met on Tuesday and discussed the history of police review in Santa Cruz. Their latest suggestion, apparently is to have Complaint forms about police misconduct available on line in Spanish and English. If this is the outcome of a year of people airing serious grievances about the SCPD, Deputies, etc., then we're really in sad shape.

However, there may be a number of folks in that group interested in taking some action to support Curtis.
by litigious
i'm all for going after starbucks for other reasons, but this is ridiculous. almost as absurd to me as the person who sued mcdonald's for spilling hot coffee on herself. boycott, get your friends to boycott, but don't sue for slander. that makes you just as slimy as the corporate mongers you are going after.

by wildegurl
Any of you that would like to call Starbucks Corporate office and complain about how Curtis was treated:

Retail Customer Relations
(800) 235-2883
Mon – Fri 5 AM – 6 PM (PST)

The only thing big corporations listen to is any way that might cause them to lose money. Let them know you aren't happy and will boycott them.
by wildegurl
So I called Starbucks Corp. office and explained what had happened. I demanded that Starbucks give Curtis a PUBLIC apology and suggested they donate to his cause. We'll see what happens. They tried to just take the complaint and leave it at that, but I pushed until they said they would call me within 24-48 hours (business days) to let me know what they were going to do.

I'll let ya'll know what happens!
I am very curious as to how they respond to WildeGurl. I can't boycott them because I already don't buy their crap. They could be owned by the Klan or by The Rainbow Coalition and I wouldn't go there ;)

by Robert Norse
My apologies to those who tuned in Thursday night in hopes of hearing the post-hearing discussion around Curtis's case. It'll be played 10 PM Sunday on 101.1 FM. Subsequently the show will be archived at .

Yesterday's Sentinel story on Curtis can be found at

To catch some debate between Curtis' defenders and the usual internet bigoiterers (bigots + loiterers) who regularly bloviate on the Sentinel website, go to .

Does anyone have the right web address for the original 2007 Sentinel story on Curtis?

Does anyone know if the Coalition for a Community Dialogue on Racism (now known as SC Countywide Community Coalition on Overcoming Racism or CCCCOR) formally decided at its Thursday night meeting to take some action re: Starbucks and Curtis?
by Robert Norse
Much of the courthouse hallway dialogue after Curtis' hearing before Judge Almquist and some phone interviews with Curtis and eye-witness Steffan are now archived at about half-way through the audio file.

If there is enough interest, I will play the remainder of the tape on Thursday evening 6-8 PM.
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